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Oregonians May Be Missing Out on Dental-Care Coverage

Many Oregonians may not realize they are eligible for dental-care coverage since expansion under the Affordable Care Act. (dental-inno/Pixabay)
Many Oregonians may not realize they are eligible for dental-care coverage since expansion under the Affordable Care Act. (dental-inno/Pixabay)
December 27, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. – Many Oregonians who qualify for Medicaid may not know that they also are eligible for dental care. Although Medicaid at the federal level doesn't offer dental care, Oregon has taken a different path toward providing oral health. With expansion from the Affordable Care Act in 2014, eligibility for Medicaid expanded as well. That meant more Oregonians qualified for the Oregon Health Plan and also the dental care plan included in it.

Alyssa Franzen, executive dental director for CareOregon, said the change was big and there still are barriers to getting the message out.

"There, in some communities, are a more limited number of providers," she said. "In some cases, we know that folks don't know they have a dental benefit. They get on Oregon Health Plan. They know that they have some medical coverage. They don't understand the dental-coverage piece."

Franzen said every region has its set of challenges. On the north coast, providers are more spread out, making it harder for people there to get to a provider. The number of Oregonians affected by this can be sizable in some areas of the state. In some communities, one in four is eligible for the Oregon Health Plan.

Since people may not know they have dental coverage, they probably haven't been to the dentist in many years.

Cathleen Olesitse, oral health program manager at CareOregon, said it's a good idea for people to go to their dental-care provider even if they haven't been in a long time for a checkup and to find out what procedures they may need.

"The Oregon Health Plan dental benefit is quite comprehensive, especially since 2014 and the adult benefit expansion," she said. "Covered services are free to the Medicaid member, but not all services are covered."

Franzen pointed out how integral oral health is to overall health, particularly for pregnant women and preventing cavities for children.

"Young kids usually obtain those bacterial types from the primary caregiver, which over 90 percent of the time is the mother," Franzen added. "So if the mother has a healthy mouth, the transmissibility can be reduced to the child, and so treating pregnant women can be a strategy in preventing early childhood carries."

She also added that diabetic and cardiovascular patients also benefit significantly from having oral health included in their care plan.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR